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Inspiration: Betrayal at House on the Hill

Did anyone else play Monopoly religiously at Thanksgiving?  Just me?

We had a Star Wars edition of Monopoly at my grandmother’s house.  Whenever the extended family came in from Colorado, we’d pop the game out and do a round or two.  I loved it.  I never won, of course, but I’m not really a competitive sort.  Just spending time with loved ones was all that I really needed (and cue sappy music).

Up until Betrayal at House on the Hill, I’d never realized there could be board games beyond the ones from my childhood.  Scrabble, Pictionary, Monopoly, Taboo–they were fun and all, but, in my mind, meant for children.  Not adults.  Certainly not a group of twenty-somethings determined to stay in for a Friday night.

Then my brother rode in on his white stallion, the game held aloft in his hands as sunshine filtered down through the clouds and illuminated him with a single, blinding ray of light.

Ok, no, that’s not really how it happened.  But he did drive up in his white Tahoe with the game tucked under his arm before flinging it down on the table and saying we should play with him.

Thus I was introduced to the startlingly wonderful world of indie board games.

Betrayal at House on the Hill combined everything I loved about games: it was co-operative, challenging, and fun.  But, more importantly, it told a story.  A story.  Scrabble is all well and good, but there’s not over-arching story, no role-playing, no plot.  With Betrayal at House on the Hill, you get a story each time you play.  And more than that, the story changes each time.  You might fight a leprechaun one time and then aliens the next.  A demonic music box might come into play.  One of your fellows might turn traitor and betray the other explorers.  With the mechanics of the game, it’s different each time.

Ahem.  Now that I’ve done my shameless promotion, allow me to tell you a story…a story of how my life got flipped, turned upside down…wait, not that story.  A story about how this impacted me as a writer.

I’ve always liked a good ghost story.  To be a little spooked, the wonder at the paranormal–that really sells me.  Up until this point, though, I hadn’t really thought others shared my weird interests.  I mean, who else wonders about what would happen if you were trapped in a dilapidated house with aliens on the way to convert you into fish people?

My point is this: the world is so wide, and so vast, that someone out there is sure to love whatever story you’re writing.  I had just played a game about a leprechaun chasing a small child through a creepy mansion.  And I’d liked it.  So then, imagine my surprise when my brother had said this game was selling well.  Like, really well.

That really struck home to me as a writer.  If you write your story, and you genuinely love and believe in what you’re doing, then others will respond to it.  After we’d finished up for that night, so many years ago (ok, no, maybe like 5 or 6 years ago), I really got to thinking about my own stories.  And I realized I shouldn’t limit myself to what I thought other people might like, but that I should write about what I liked.

The rest will follow.  But you’ve got to embrace your own weirdness first.

 

 

Book Review: Artemis by Andy Weir (Spoilers)

I love creative people.  I mean, a heist plot on the moon?  I never would have thought of that.  Not to mention that the science and math research needed in order to actually sell the idea.

Andy Weir, God bless you for dumbing down the science well enough for me to understand.

Like his first book, The Martian, Weir seamlessly integrates the technical know-how for his heist into Artemis.  Some of it got bogged down and muddled, especially on the welding.  But given that the welding was crucial to the plot, I can forgive it.  That being said, I walked away feeling like I could pull off a heist while on the moon.  His ability to instill such confidence of understanding in the reader is, in my opinion, one of Weir’s greatest strengths as a writer.  We saw it with Mark Watney in The Martian and we see that again with Jazz in Artemis.

Ah, Jazz.  Unlike other reviews I’ve read, I enjoyed her characterization.  It did feel like Mark Watney at some points, with his humor bleeding through to Jazz’s, but I still felt they were different characters.  After all, if you’re writing about heroes fighting against all odds in hostile environments, there tends to be overlap.  Plenty of people deal with problems by employing humor.  I do.  Often at inappropriate times.  It’s a coping mechanism, and while I can see the faults in both of Weir’s main characters utilizing it, I can also see how circumstances might have molded these characters similarly in some instances.

Jazz, if you haven’t read the book, does tend to lean toward self-deprecation of her sex life and her body.  She regards both with a cavalier attitude in many instances, like, as other reviewers have mentioned, a twelve-year-old boy.  I, personally, think this is perfectly fine.  My personal love for comic books, video games, soda, and pizza align more with a twelve-year-old-boy than the late-twenties woman that I am.  Not all women are going to look at sex the same way I am, hence different characters.  That being said, she does go for the sex joke a lot throughout the story, oftentimes with the reader more than other characters.  So if sex offends you, avert your eyes because Jazz doesn’t let up throughout the entirety of the story.

For me, the story really hit its stride way later than I thought it would.  Once the heist actually starts, we’re golden, but it takes some buildup to get there.  That’s understandable given the plot and necessary character build-up, but I felt like it could have been reworked for a smoother ride.  I wondered if maybe Weir was going for too much: Jason Bourne level on-the-run scenarios, an Ocean’s 11 type of heist, crime syndicates, science, MacGyver, and corporate espionage all added with the usual father-daughter strained dynamic and potential romance that every novel needs.  While on the moon.  It just felt like too much sometimes.  And the subplot with the condom (yes, you read that right) didn’t even conclude.  I felt like Weir bit off more than he could chew with how short this novel was.

I did enjoy the story.  I don’t regret the time I put into it.  But it didn’t hook my attention until about two-thirds through.  I’d put it down, leave it for a few days, and then come back because I hate leaving things unfinished.  I enjoyed it while I did it, but I came to this book with the same level of intensity I do with exercising: I enjoy it while I do it, but it’s a pain to motivate me to get into the right mindset to actually do it.  It certainly didn’t leave me in the same book-hangover mode that The Martian did, but I think that’s to be expected.  On first projects, more time and attention is put in, and so, they’re better.  Artemis wasn’t bad, but I’m not going to come back for a reread anytime soon.

 

Writing Advice: Pet the Dog

Ah, anti-heroes.  Those characters we love even though everything else tells us that maybe we shouldn’t.  They’re morally questionable, lack typical heroic qualities, and tend to brood.  A lot.  And yet, we still can’t get enough of them.

But what makes anti-heroes crowd favorites?  Or, more specifically, how can we make sure our readers come to love these characters when they lack the charms of our protagonists?

Well, it all involves a dog.  Or maybe a cat, depending on how you’ve heard it phrased before.

Ok, no, not a real dog and/or cat.  Well, probably not a real dog and/or cat, unless dogs and/or cats abound in your dog and/or cat writings.

I’m talking about a phrase called “petting the dog,” or I’ve heard it called “saving the cat” too.  Writer’s choice.  For me, though, since I’m a dog person, I use “petting the dog” in reference to this neat tip.

It’s a great trick for when you want to give your character a little bit of extra help in the likability category.  That anti-hero you want the audience to relate to?  That character you’ve just introduced and you need to make sure the audience resonates with them?  Maybe you’re trying to flip your villain into an anti-hero?  Petting the dog is how you’re going to succeed.

It’s an ingenious trick: you set your character in a scene where they show kindness to another.  Particularly someone weaker or more expressive of their vulnerability.  And you get extra points for cuteness (like a dog, for example!), but the real kicker is this: this moment of kindness does nothing to help them further their agenda.

That’s it.  You take your character and make them expression genuine kindness toward another, vulnerable character/critter.  It softens their edges, makes them more relatable, and then, DING!, you’ve made your reader see this character in a new light.

Let’s look at some examples:

In The Chronicles of Narnia movies we see Edmund belittle and bully his sister, Lucy, throughout the first movie.  Then, in the second, we see Edmund come to his sister’s defense when she insists on seeing Aslan, even though her older siblings cannot.  As a viewer, my estimations of Edmund skyrocketed at that point because he was willing to defend his younger sister, even though he didn’t really have a reason to.

In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rey wakes up as Kylo Ren’s prisoner.  When she snaps at him about being chased by a creature in a mask, Kylo graciously removes his helmet to continue the conversation.  The conversation would have continued with or without the mask, and his removal of it hinted that he considered Rey’s unease.

In the Harry Potter series, Mr. Filch enjoys hanging disobedient students up by their thumbs in the dungeons.  But he dotes on Mrs. Norris.  Granted, the cat might be the spawn of Satan, but you can respect a man devoted to his feline friend.

Remember the book burning from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade?  When Indy goes to retrieve his father’s diary in Berlin and runs into Elsa?  Her horrified expression and subsequent early leaving of the book burning is an excellent petting the dog moment because it gives complexity to her character.

These are just a few moments in which “petting the dog” or “saving the cat” forced me to reevaluate previous character conceptions.  In the first two examples, these petting the dog moments are working toward changing the entire characterization of these two characters: we’re meant to root for Edmund and (to an extent) Kylo Ren.  In the latter two, they go toward rounding these characters out and giving them a more dimensional presence in the stories.  Either way, we can see some excellent character development in play here.

Know of some more petting the dog/saving the cat moments?  Comment below!

 

 

 

 

Writing Advice: Describe the Shoes

I’m not published or anything, but I have been writing for a while.  And over the years, you begin to pick up tips and tricks about what works versus what doesn’t.  You hear authors explain that this works or that does; you figure out strong writing from what you read, whether you’re consciously studying a text or not; and little tidbits trickle down to you from the most unlikely of places.

Pinterest, for me, didn’t start as a writing tool.

I mostly used it to indulge my grandiose chef delusions.  Or to find fan-art.  Or learn how to dress myself because my friends kept telling me that yoga pants weren’t appropriate for the workplace (which, I mean, I still don’t completely understand why not, but oh well).

Writing advice began to sprout through the cracks of my Pinterest account, as if it knew that I dabbled by magic.  Most of it was advice I’d already picked up at workshops or reading blogs by already published authors.

Some of it was new, offering tips on things I’d never thought of before.

I (like I’m sure many of you Pinterst users can attest to) failed to pin this particular little gem.  So I’m afraid I can’t afford credit.  But it was a simple little snapshot of someone’s Tumblr with this advice:

“When you start to describe someone, start with their shoes.”

The longer I thought about it, the more sense it made.  Authors, especially in YA, start with hair and eye color.  And yeah, I love me a dark-haired-blue-eye-Greek-god as much as the next girl, but if you really want to get to the heart of a person, if you really want to see their character shining through, then start by describing their shoes.

Are they designer or off-brand?

Are they well-worn or brand new?

Are they made with a loud pattern or color, or more soft and demure?

Are they scuffed up?

Do they even have shoes?

What material are she shoes made out of?

Are they more for fashion or more for functionality?

Picture this: A man sits at a bus stop.  He wears black shoes, the kind your father always wore to church or work.  But they’re old, the inky blackness dulled to a dark gray and the soles worn thin.  Yet, despite their age, they’ve been well-taken care of.

Beside him sits another man.  He’s wearing black combat boots, fit snug.  The shoelaces are tied perfectly, the ends of either side the exact same length, as if he measured before leaving the house.  A well-known designer logo sits over the ankle of the boot, black on black.

We’ve got three sentences describing the shoes of each man.  Nothing else is described.  And yet, reading these few lines, I’ve already formed ideas about these two men.  In my mind, I see what kind of person they are because of their shoes and how they’ve interacted with them.  I have guesses as to their jobs, their lifestyles, their personalities.  And all from three lines each about their respective shoes.

Much better than describing their hair color, right?

What kind of men do you think they are?  Comment below!

Perception: Chapter One

Interested in reading the first chapter of Perception for free??  Please enjoy!

v1

“You do realize we haven’t moved off this couch in the last four hours?”

“Not true,” Bronte said, clicking through the end credits of Grey’s Anatomy and onto the next episode. She tossed the PlayStation controller onto the ottoman/coffee table in front of us, narrowly missing her fairy-tale books and flower vase vignette. “Two episodes ago, you grabbed us cokes from the fridge. Thirty minutes into the previous episode, I stood up, stretched out my left leg because it went to sleep, and then sat back down.”

“Ah. I stand corrected.”

She nodded.  “As you were.”

The recap from the previous few episodes flashed across the 32-inch flat screen across the far wall. As if we hadn’t just seen all those moments hours earlier.

My eyes roamed above the screen to the world map tapestry hanging above it. As it always did, my eyes focused on the splotches marring the map. Bronte thought they were part of the tapestry’s charm. I thought they looked exactly like the state of New Jersey, just flipped around, and that the artist had been from New Jersey and this was all a clever ploy by the New Jersian to bolster the reputation of New Jersey. Bronte didn’t believe me.

The familiar jingle signaling another episode chimed from the screen. Then Meredith Grey’s voice floated over a fly-over of Seattle, drawing another parallel between surgical skills and life at large.

As it did.

In.

Every.

Episode.

“Shoot me now,” I grumbled.

Bronte grabbed one of the couch pillows and flung it at me. With eight pillows on the couch, we usually had some to spare besides the ones we cocooned ourselves with whenever we binged like this.

It smacked me on the top of the head before plopping off onto the ground beside me.

“We’re in season nine,” she said. “More than halfway through.”

“This was fun at the beginning.”

“It’s fun now.”

“Liar.”

“Maybe.”

“I’ve forgotten what other TV shows even talk about.”

“There are no other TV shows outside of Grey’s.”

“That can’t be right.” I looked over at her, a mock serious expression on my face. “Is that right? I can’t remember a time before. Was there a time before?”

“There has always been Grey’s.”

A chill went through me, rocking my core so violently I sat up with the shivers.

Bronte glanced at me, then frowned. “You want me to turn the heat up? Get a blanket?”

I fell back into my spot. “No need. It’s gone.”

She sat still for a moment. Then she reached forward, grabbed the controller, and paused the show. “It happens a lot, doesn’t it? The chills?”

“I’m always cold. You know that.”

She shook her head. “No, not getting cold, or running colder than normal, but the chills. My dad used to say it’s whenever someone walks over your grave–that’s when you get chills like that.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.”

“It happens a lot though. Me included.”

She was right, of course. I’d noticed them too. The sudden shuddering seizing, then gone. A second, maybe two, then it passes like it’d never happened to begin with.

But I hadn’t been able to find a cause. We didn’t always walk under a vent when it happened, though sometimes we did. We didn’t catch a whiff of chilly air coming in through the cracks around our windows from the hasty construction. Driving, West Texas wind wasn’t always sneaking in through the front door. It was a fairly new apartment, so there shouldn’t be any drafts. And I wasn’t scientific enough to try and discover the cause, even though I had noticed how weird it was.

So I did what any sane person would do when met with something unexplainable and odd: I ignored it outwardly. I didn’t voice aloud how I felt that same chill every morning on the weekdays, exactly at the last minute when I needed to get up for work, and that it had saved me from oversleeping a few times. I didn’t tell my roommate that I felt it when I was alone in the apartment, crying over sad books. And I was certainly not about to mention that it seemed to happen more frequently when I played The Legend of Zelda video game series more than any other.

Letting those thoughts worm around in the back of my mind was one thing. Spreading them like a disease by voicing them aloud was something else. If I said them, if I shared them, if I gave them form–even in the form of spoken words–then they’d be real. They could spread.

I wasn’t about to let that happen.

“Really, Charlotte, I never noticed.”

She scowled at the use of her real name. Bronte had started as a nickname when we first met–we’d bonded over our general love of books after being introduced through a mutual friend, Rose. It had caught on, and in the thirteen years since then, it had spread to the point where nearly everyone called her Bronte now.

“Really, Stella, you never noticed?”

“Really, Charlotte, I never noticed,” I repeated, leaning forward and pressing the play button.

Still scowling, she grabbed a pillow and hugged it to her chest, turning her attention back to the show. For a few minutes, she looked at the screen. Then she whispered, “I keep thinking I see things. Out of the corner of my eye.”

I looked over at her.

She kept staring straight ahead. “And when I turn to look at them, they’re gone. Every time I think I see something, it’s you I think I see. Or feel, I guess. You know how like you’re standing in your room and you just know someone is standing in your doorway, even though you can’t see the doorway? It’s like that.”

“Why do you think it’s me?”

She shuddered. It wasn’t a shiver, not one of the walking-over-your-grave ones. But a shudder, nonetheless. “Who else would it be? We’re the only two here.”

I grabbed a pillow for myself and hugged it close.

My mouth opened to tell her about the voices. The voices I laid awake at night, trying to convince myself were people outside or in the apartment below. Voices floating through paper-thin walls because they sounded distant. No, not distant, exactly, more like muffled. Less like being echoed through a long hallway and more like words whispered through a pillow.

The front door burst open and we both jumped out of our seats.

Rose barreled into the room, balancing a pizza box and a bottle of wine along with her laptop bag, winter coat, and purse. “Assistance?”

Bronte and I shot forward, taking things from her until we’d unburied Rose from all the clutter. Her long, blonde hair was wavy today, held back by a bohemian scarf. Her sweat pants and two-sizes-too-big sweater let loose the scent of laundry detergent as I peeled her out of her coat. “Laundry day?”

“Yes,” she purred, taking a whiff of her sleeve and letting out a pleasant sigh. “Nothing beats laundry day.”

Bronte took the pizza box and wine into the kitchen. She stowed the white wine for after dinner and grabbed some plates down from the cabinets. “We’re on season nine,” she called out as she helped herself to a slice.

After we each grabbed our plates, we all returned to our places on the sofa. Bronte and I sat on it while Rose sat on the floor, her back propped up against it.

I noticed Bronte wouldn’t meet my eye as we resumed the show.

She didn’t bring it up after Rose left for the night, with a quick reminder about tomorrow’s girls’ night.

We didn’t breach the subject as we cleaned up the debris from dinner.

But when we headed our separate ways for the night, she shivered as she headed for her bedroom. We both froze: me near the kitchen lights, her in her doorframe. For a moment, I thought she was going to turn to me.

She didn’t.

And after a deep breath, she stepped into her room and shut the door.

My hand hovered over the light.  Then I flipped it and marched toward my bedroom door.

In the dark, my ears caught the softest sigh floating through the stillness of the room.  It spurned me on faster until I jumped into bed.  Like a child, I yanked the covers over my head.

“It’s just people outside, walking their dogs,” I whispered.

But I seriously doubted it.

***

“They’re starting to figure it out,” Oliver sighed, falling back onto the couch.

Cyril watched as his friend’s astral form fell slower than any real body would. Like a feather floating, Oliver drifted through the still air to settle on the couch. Not that the cushions gave under his weight–he didn’t have any weight. Not anymore. Not for a long time.

He never really understood why Oliver insisted on sitting on the furniture. They were ghosts. They could float. And their bodies didn’t exactly tire either, if they did remain standing.

His friend’s phantom outline shone with the faintest light in the late-night darkness of the room. A vague outline of pale, ghostly white. Oliver moved so that he could rest his elbows on his knees, hanging his head, his fingers sliding through his hair to mess it up.

If his friend stood now, he would be the picture of a crazed ghost portrayed in movies and on paper. Messy hair, wild eyes, trembling frame.

Oliver was taking the overheard conversation between Bronte and Stella roughly. Especially Bronte’s admissions of catching shadows in the corner of her eyes. Her fear, her uncertainty of those shadows had pierced straight through Oliver, forcing him to leave the room and retreat to Bronte’s bedroom during the evening.

Cyril had caught his friend’s face as Oliver and Bronte accidentally brushed when she switched rooms afterward. When Bronte stiffened. When Stella froze.

Bent over as his friend was now, he imagined it was the same face. The same agonized, tortured expression.

He moved away from Stella’s door, more toward the center of the living room. Still floating, he sat, but his body didn’t fall toward the floor. His top half didn’t even move. His legs just came up and he sat cross-legged nearly three feet above the ground.

“Not yet.”

Oliver’s head snapped up and he scowled at him. “The chills? Bronte is seeing things. Stella is hearing things. Us, Cyril. They’re feeling, seeing and hearing us.”

Cyril felt a stab of annoyance. “And what would you like me to do about that?”

Oliver scoffed. “Nothing.”

Anger rising, Cyril opened his mouth to snap back. But then he stopped, took in a deep breath, and let it out slowly.

Not that it was an actual breath. He’d given up breathing more than one hundred years ago. But still, the actions of taking a breath calmed him down. “Sorry.”

Oliver sighed. “I just…I don’t want what happened with Mrs. Rogers to happen again.”

“I know.”

“They’re younger, Cyril,” he said, an edge of concern creeping into his voice. “God, they’re in their mid-twenties. The only saving grace with Mrs. Rogers was her age, so she died faster.”  He let out a bitter laugh as he said it. “She only had to spend the last six years of her life going crazy.  If we do that to them–“

“We won’t.”

“–haunting them for the rest of their lives. God, I couldn’t bear to watch them deteriorate like Mrs. Rogers. She moved twice in those last six years, Cyril. Nearly bankrupted her to do it and she didn’t know, didn’t realize–“

“Oliver.”

“–her own children wanted to condemn her to the psychologists. We drove her mad, Cyril.”

Cyril floated through the air and landed on the sofa beside Oliver. “That’s not how it’s going to happen. Not again.”

Oliver’s eyes flitted to Bronte’s bedroom door. “A pocket watch. She bought a pocket watch and it killed her. And I thought how we died was bad.”

“They aren’t going to be like Mrs. Rogers.”

His friend turned to look at him. “You can’t know that.”

Sighing, Cyril glanced over his shoulder at Stella’s door. “They’ve got each other, so that’s something. They’re more akin to dreamers, so that might help. They’re stronger than Mrs. Rogers was. When it gets to the point that their perception of us is stronger, they’ll be better able to handle…able to handle the fact–“

“That they’re haunted,” Oliver whispered on a sigh.

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Movie Review: Truth or Dare? (spoilers!)

Tuesdays are sacred.  Why?  Because movie theaters offer discounted tickets on Tuesdays.  I mean, what’s better than chilling at the movie for a few hours when you’ve only payed $5 to get in?  Let me answer that for you: nothing.

And, if we’re being honest, I really am glad I only paid $5 for this movie.

It wasn’t my new favorite teen horror movie.  Though, if we’re being truthful, I’m not sure I have a favorite teen horror movie…unless we’re counting Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods though I consider that more horror satire than a straight up teen horror movie.

I didn’t have high expectations going into this movie.  I hadn’t even seen a trailer for it beforehand–which is weird, since I gobble up movie trailers like I do popcorn.  But my friend wanted a movie, and we hadn’t seen this one yet, so last night, we found ourselves at the lovely Alamo Drafthouse enjoying drinks, loaded fries…and that’s it, really.

Because the movie wasn’t that great.  The premise, once I realized what it was, made me think of what Jumanji‘s awkward emo teen years would have been like, if games aged like people: a game goes bad, teenage angst, demons, Spring Break, and more angst.   That being said, I did really like the part about the demon possessing a concept, an idea.  That really got my mind working, and it was a nice break from other things demons seem particularly interested in possessing: small children, dolls–ok, anything childhood related, really.  And yes, the game Truth or Dare is a game from my childhood, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch, but I loved the idea of possessing a concept.  It made me think back to the idea of thoughts as disease: spreading, growing, mutating, and nearly impossible to kill once they had.

That seemed to be the only thing going for the movie though.  Aside from the acting, which really wasn’t that bad, all things considered.

My main problems with the movie centered around the, for lack of a better term, something I’m calling the “scare element.”  Tropes you find in horror movies designed explicitly to garner a scare-centric reaction from the audience, whether fear, cringing, disgust, what have you.  People standing still as the camera pans passed?  Loud banging at quiet moments?   Chilling grins reminiscent of the Joker?  Those are “scare elements” to me, because, well, they’re scary.

This movie was laden with them, as an horror movie should be, but the type used, and how they were executed got to me as a viewer.  To the point where I was just…done.  You know when you reach that point where you’re so tired, you either cry or laugh?  It was like that, only instead of crying vs. laughing, we had fearing vs. laughing.  And laughing won out hard.

The religious element (which I’ve never really understood as scary, or a scare element, but according to others, I’m in the minority on that front), designed to establish an origin for the horror, seemed unnecessary.  Why have the story start in a Catholic convent?  What did the religious element add?  None that I saw–but religion and horror seem to go hand-in-hand in Hollywood, especially when you’re dealing with demons.  Can’t have demons without nuns, I suppose.

Another scare element that threw me was the use of squeamishness.  Lucy Hale’s character, Olivia, at one point, has her hand broken by a hammer.  Another guy jams a pen into his eye and throws himself into a door frame to drive it in deeper.  These scares, to me, felt over the top.  Designed to get a sickly gagging reaction from the audience.  A cheap scare, almost.  Not a scare I was interested in experiencing because I felt like they could have done better and were simply copping out.

Another cop-out was character development.  As a writer, I’m more focused on the character.  I want to see myself in these people, to find something that connects us, and to then root for them because of it.  I want them to succeed.  Here, though, I wasn’t really rooting for anyone.  None of the characters felt real, more like caricature, cardboard-cutouts of stereotypical teenagers.

The only instance, maybe, of character development I saw (if we can call it development and not regression, but that’s another topic for another day) centered around how the movie ended, the last scare element of the film.  Once again, it felt like a cop-out.  That they’d painted themselves into such a helpless corner, this was the only option left to our plucky survivalists and the writers behind them.  But it wasn’t.  All they had to do was order the demon to do something they knew it couldn’t…like “I dare you to end the game,” for example.  It would have taken planning, cunning, and courage (I guess Olivia isn’t a Gryffindor), but they could have managed.  They had even set it up so that after Olivia and Markie both choose truth, then the demon would have to choose dare.  Game, set, and match.  But that’s not what happened.  Instead, YouTube happened.   The ending, then, after building up our heroine to be an altruistic, moral person fell flat and forced.

Ok, all that being said, I’m happy this movie exists.  Why, you might ask?  Because it’s creative.  It’s a story.  It’s someone, somewhere, going: “Hey, I’ve got an idea,” and working to bring it to life.  Did I like it?  No.  But that’s fine.  Because someone else may love it.  And if authors, directors, creators didn’t take a chance on things, we’d never find out what stirs our blood and gets our hearts pumping.  So congrats to everyone connected with the film: you made something.  And that’s so inspiring.

 

First Thoughts: Artemis by Andy Weir

Like many others, I’m sure, I enjoyed The Martian (both the book and the movie) by Andy Weir.  I liked it more than I thought I would, actually, given that there seemed to be a distressingly large amount of science and math involved in the narrative plot.

I mean, the story revolves around Mark Watney sciencing his way to survival.

As an English person (I mean, I write books for crying out loud!) the thought of such a densely science-filled story left me wondering if I could keep up.

Which I did.

And I’m thoroughly glad that I gave it a whirl.

My first impressions of Andy Weir’s latest book, Artemis, follow that same line of thinking: I have no idea about any of the science stuff I’m sure to find, but it’ll be ok.  Andy Weir does a fantastic job of describing science easily, without the jargon and stuffiness associated with jargon hindering the average reader.  I love that kind of writing: how accessible, how open it is.  It’s something I hope to be able to do, one day.

In the meantime, I plan on learning from published authors, so I’m excited to give Artemis a go.

But I digress.  The reason I’m writing this is to give my first impressions before I start in.

So, in a nutshell, here’s what I’m looking forward to:

  • The accessibility of the science-heavy components (more from a writer’s standpoint than a readers, but oh well, there you have it).
  • The heroine (she’s a smuggler, for crying out loud.  I always love bad-ass women doing bad-ass things).
  • The title (as a lover of mythology, anything named after the Greek goddess of the Hunt deserves rapt attention!).
  • Morally questionable motivations (it’s nice to be reminded that we’re all human here, and sometimes, crippling debt is all the motivation you need).
  • It’s a con/heist story.  On the moon.  On.  The.  MOON!

There we have it, ladies and gentlemen.  The five exciting reasons why I’m going to dive into this book.  I’ll let you know, once I’ve finished, what my final thoughts are–so stick around for those.  In the meantime, if you haven’t had a chance to see Artemis yet, check out the blurb on the back of the book:

“Jasmine Bashara never signed up to be a hero. She just wanted to get rich.

Not crazy, eccentric-billionaire rich, like many of the visitors to her hometown of Artemis, humanity’s first and only lunar colony. Just rich enough to move out of her coffin-sized apartment and eat something better than flavored algae. Rich enough to pay off a debt she’s owed for a long time.

So when a chance at a huge score finally comes her way, Jazz can’t say no. Sure, it requires her to graduate from small-time smuggler to full-on criminal mastermind. And it calls for a particular combination of cunning, technical skills, and large explosions—not to mention sheer brazen swagger. But Jazz has never run into a challenge her intellect can’t handle, and she figures she’s got the ‘swagger’ part down.

The trouble is, engineering the perfect crime is just the start of Jazz’s problems. Because her little heist is about to land her in the middle of a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself.

Trapped between competing forces, pursued by a killer and the law alike, even Jazz has to admit she’s in way over her head. She’ll have to hatch a truly spectacular scheme to have a chance at staying alive and saving her city.

Jazz is no hero, but she is a very good criminal.

That’ll have to do.

Propelled by its heroine’s wisecracking voice, set in a city that’s at once stunningly imagined and intimately familiar, and brimming over with clever problem-solving and heist-y fun, Artemis is another irresistible brew of science, suspense, and humor from #1 bestselling author Andy Weir.”

I’m sure it goes without mentioning, but the image is kindly used courtesy of Crown Publishing.

Inspiration: The Name of the Wind

If you haven’t read this book, drop everything and go buy it.

Seriously.

Stop reading.  Go.  Buy.  Read.

If you have read it, I hope you’ll share in my admiration.  The Name of the Wind captures every magical fantasy you’ve ever had.  You want dragon fights?  Check.  Enigmatic magical schools.  Done.  A bard/student/genius/sword-master/hero the likes of which the world doesn’t deserve?  Nailed it.

My cousin and my brother both recommended this book to me, which is how I stumbled across it.  I mean, when two of the biggest readers in my life sit me down and insist upon a book, you tend to listen.  And I did.  Thank God, I did.

From a young age, Kvothe (our bard/student/genius/sword-master/hero) learns about and becomes fascinated with the name of the wind.  Hence the title, in case you didn’t make that connection.  After hearing a story about a man summoning the wind to save his life, he becomes determined to learn the name for himself.

I love the concept of name invocation.  How the possession of a true name can give you power over the thing that is named.  I’d heard of the concept before, particularly in fairy stories (ahem, ahem Rumpelstiltskin), but this was the first time, that I could recall, where there was this air of power and mystery around knowing a concept’s name.  To me, reading this book, I felt like the name of the wind was smoke.  Something real but nearly impossible to catch.  Something you could glimpse, could see, but not something you could ever possess.  The wispy elusiveness of the wind’s name made sense–it is the wind, after all–and sparked in me my own fascination with name invocation.

So much so, that when it came time to write a psychic ability for my own heroine based on sound, I picked it.  Without hesitation.  I wanted my heroine to be able to compel obedience from simply a name.

The wispy, elusive aspect of knowing the wind’s name is something I’ll have to work on.  For my own writing, I picked fire as my element of choice.  Ghosts and fire seem to go hand in hand, and I hope to convey that wonderful sense of mystery about what the name of fire is in my writing.

I’ve got loads to go–I’m not Patrick Rothfuss–but I hope to one day incorporate a similar thrill when my heroine (hopefully!) learns the name of fire into my own works.

[And a very special shout-out to Marc Simonetti for the picture, titled The Name of the Wind also.  It’s such a wonderful work!]

Inspiration: The Mediator Series by Meg Cabot

I hadn’t noticed before, but I seem to like ghost stories.

But when you sit down and start wondering what inspiration fueled your own foray into paranormal fiction…and you realize just how many ghost stories you’ve encountered along the way…well, the evidence speaks for itself: I like ghost stories.

Did Meg Cabot’s The Mediator series start off my fascination for ghost stories?  I’m not sure–but it was definitely one of the first.  I still remember stumbling across these books in my school library.  Wedged between The Princess Diaries books were the colorful covers of Suze’s ghostly adventures.  I remember hesitating, because princesses weren’t really my thing.  Could I like an author who penned an impressive series around the Princess of Genovia?  I mean, I liked the Anne Hathaway/Julie Andrews gem (though I outwardly denied it because I had my tomboy reputation to uphold) but what if the books were different?  What if they were more foofy and frilly and my sensitive sensibilities couldn’t handle it?

Turns out, I had worried over nothing.  Suze doesn’t hold with conventional female stereotypes: she kicks butt, takes names, and still wrestles over the growing pains of girlhood.  I think that’s what sold me on this series when I read through Shadowland.  She helped people, she was tough, and yet she still debated about what to wear in the mornings.  Those characteristics juxtaposed together really hit home for me.

So much so that I devoured the entire series.  And I still think back to them, years later.  Meg Cabot managed to tie together a girlhood-coming-of-age story with the adrenaline-pumping adventure of a girl trying to help the recently departed with their unfinished business.

In my own writing, I want to make that connection.  My heroines are fighting ghosts–and some of those ghosts are terrifying and horrible.  But, and this is important for me to highlight in my work, my heroines are still 20-something, new-age girls.  They’re going to worry about boys, hairstyles, making friends, their friendships with each other, and finding their ways forward in life.  And while trying to help other people with their own hauntings.

So, as far as inspiration is concerned, that’s what I took away from The Mediator series.  All six books wonderfully highlighted the ghost-busting with the day-to-day life of a teenage girl.  And I think that it made for wonderful writing.  After all, you can’t have the supernatural without the natural with which to compare.

 

Perception

“A pocket watch. She bought a pocket watch and it killed her. And I thought how we died was bad.”

As far as apartments go, roommates Stella and Charlotte “Bronte” believe theirs to be just fine.  Sure, they hate taking the stairs up to the third floor, especially after grocery shopping.  And yes, the apartment staff could be a bit nicer.  But all things considered, it’s not a bad place to live.

Until the sudden chills begin, seizing them at inexplicable times.  Until Bronte starts to see shapes out of the corner of her eye and Stella begins to hear voices too close, sighs too near to be the culprit of paper-thin walls.

Century-old ghosts Oliver and Cyril have seen what happens to mortals forced, unknowingly, to spend time in their company.  Their perceptions change, allowing them to perceive the Otherworld.  A realm, they know, humans can only tolerate for so long before madness sets in.

Determined to save Bronte and Stella from the fate that befell their last haunting, Oliver and Cyril must find a way to keep the girls from perceiving the Otherworld.  But how are they to do it when they’re trapped in a normal apartment?  How long do they have before their forced proximity to the girls deepens their perceptions?

And why do they start to feel chills themselves?

Interested in reading more?  Check me out on Wattpad: @ElizaLainn.